The booze sloshed in the pit of his stomach like water in the bottom of a boat. The rain was coming down so hard that he could barely see more than ten feet in front of his eyes, except for the occasional flash of lightning, which lit up the world around him. Not that Alex would have been able to see much anyway.It had only been drizzling slightly when Alex and his buddies had arrived at Mike’s Tavern, the only real bar in Julius. The street lights reflected off the chipped asphalt parking lot, making the light glimmer like a million stars. The mingled smell of fried food and spilled beer had greeted Alex as he, Joel, and Steve walked in. That smell was a strange mix of happiness and depression. It was the smell of a softly stolen kiss and the sting of a back alley brawl. It brought to Alex, the sweet memories of youth and the bitterness of oncoming old age.
Joel and Steve had left around 10 with a couple of out-of-town girls, leaving Alex to drink alone. He didn’t mind. Alex had never been particularly good at picking up women from the bar, a fact that didn’t bother him in the slightest. His idea of a good time had always involved a fifth of bourbon or a 24 pack of Natural Light. He enjoyed drinking alone, but he always drank at a bar. There was a big difference in drinking by yourself, and drinking alone. You could drink alone, at a bar, surrounded by people, but drinking by yourself, in your house, with just your dog for company, depressed him.
So Alex drank alone, staring at the old television above the bar, not really watching, until the warning had flashed across the screen. A crawl of words, stating that a severe storm was slated for St. Charles and Warren County, and a radar map, showing a blob of pink and purple sliding over eastern Missouri, took up two thirds of the screen.
A chill ran up Alex’s back, the word FLOOD slashed across his drunken mind. Julius was mostly made of hills, and mostly impervious to flooding. There were a few houses in the incorporated farmland that might see some high water, and Alex’s house was over on Ridge Creek Road, which was high enough so that he rarely had frost on his windshield in the mornings. It was the memories of the flood of ’93 that had run shivers down his spine. He was 9 then and they had been living in downtown Julius. Which, besides a few flooded cellars, had been mostly untouched by the overflowing Missouri River and almost unending stream of rainfall. Though, some parts the neighboring city of Glenwood had been completely underwater. Alex remembered his daddy actually taking a boat to pick up Alex’s Uncle Jerry, whose house had been underwater.
It wasn’t until the spring of ’94 that the water had finally receded and Alex’s daddy had taken Alex and his older brother, Sam, to Uncle Jerry’s to clean up and salvage. Uncle Jerry had a big red barn next to his house. Alex’s daddy had taken them to it and pointed to just below eaves.
“See that line up there?” he asked his sons.
Alex had squinted up. The sun was licking the top of the barn and he had to shield his eyes from the glow, but he saw it. There was a faint discoloration to the red paint that coated the outside of the barn, which stopped about 6 inches from the roof. The red color was much darker there than the rest of the barn, which had faded nearly pink.
“I see it, daddy!” Sam had shouted. Alex only nodded.
“That’s how deep the flood water got out here,” Alex’s daddy had said. “It would have been over our heads, even if we were standing on each other’s shoulders.”
Sam had giggled at that, but Alex had not. In fact, the idea terrified him. What if the water got that high at their house and they had to stand on each other’s shoulders to stay above the water and everyone drowned except for the top person? Part of him knew this thought was childish, but the other part was equally sure it could happen.
The once green and beautiful yard was black with river mud and smelled faintly of decay. There had been large puddles scattered about, like the footsteps of a soaking giant. Tiny toads leapt from puddle to puddle, making it seem as if the ground was moving. Alex had heard from Billy Graul at school, that if you picked up a toad, it would pee on you and give you warts. Billy had said warts were like big balls formed on your body and filled with puss. The only way to get rid of them was for a doctor to cut them off. Alex kept his arms folded tightly across his chest, as they crossed the yard, being extra careful not to let the tiny toads touch him. The toads were bad, but the mosquitos were worse. They lumbered through the air, filling it with a faint and maddening drone. Alex saw that one had landed on his arm and he swatted at it savagely. The mosquito made an almost audible popping sound as it exploded blood across his arm. That’s my blood, Alex’s mind had screamed with revulsion, my blood and the blood of who knew how many other victims of these flying vampires.
They had moved inside the house, which looked as if it were somehow melting. The wallpaper drooped in places and the wood floor creaked and groaned beneath their feet. Alex heard a faint, echoing splashing noise coming from one of the rooms. It made him think of old wells and abandoned swimming pools. He had opened the door, curiously, and found it led to the basement. There was still been water standing in the basement, and Alex saw fish, most dead and floating, some still swimming, down there. It made him shiver, to think about those fish in their diminishing aquatic tomb.
A clap of thunder snapped Alex from his daydream. Presently, he was drunk, nearly freezing, and soaked to the bone. He had a few blurry memories of leaving the tavern tonight. Mike wouldn’t let him drive home and Alex refused Mike’s offer to let him stay at his house. Alex’s dog, Henry, was inside the house and Alex didn’t want that dog pissing and shitting everywhere before he could let the mutt out. He only lived about 20 minutes from Mike’s by car, but if Alex cut through the woods, he’d make it home in 40 by foot. Mike had just shaken his head, muttering something about not being able to talk a drunk fool into a good idea.
Alex walked down Main Street, then took a left onto Jackson and walked into the little Gas and Grocery convenient store there. It was open 24/7 and he could use a brief break from the rain and a pint of Jim Beam to warm him up on the walk. It was a chilly night and the rain wasn’t helping.
The bell above the door jingled merrily as he walked in. Alex recognized the young man behind the counter, but only by sight. He thought the kid’s name might have been Victor or Vincent, but it didn’t matter. Alex walked up to the kid, whose name might have been Vince, and asked for one of the pints behind the counter, slurring a bit. He didn’t move at first, but just stared at Alex with concern on his face.
“You need me to call a ride for you, man? It’s pouring out there, I didn’t see you drive up, and you look like you’ve swimming.”
For a moment, Alex almost said yes. It was the genuine concern he saw in the kids eyes that nearly convinced him. But he only shook his head and asked for the pint. The kid gave it to him and Alex paid, turned to walk out, when the kid hailed him again. “Look man, there’s a storm out there and it’s only going to get worse. I get off in about an hour, we’re not supposed to do this, but I’ll let you hang out in the back office and give you a ride home.” The kid was almost pleading, but Alex thought of Henry leaving golden puddles of piss all over his work boots and turned the kid down. As he reached the door, his shoes leaving a puddle of rainwater in his wake, the kid tried one more time.
“Hey, man. That storm is bad and only getting worse, I have a sixth sense about this kind of shit. Please. Don’t go back out there.“
“You can’t talk a drunk fool into a good idea,” Alex replied with a grin as he walked out of the shelter of the Gas and Grocery, to the falling rain outside
He took a swig of the bourbon as he cut across the parking lot, in a not quite straight line, towards the wooded area across Jackson Street. Alex pulled the hood of his Carhart jacket over his rain drenched hair. The bourbon in his stomach lurched for a brief moment and threatened to spill up the greasy double cheeseburger and curly fries he had eaten at Mike’s, as he stepped into the woods. He fought back the brief nausea and continued forward, nearly tripping over the jutting root of an old oak. The forest had changed since his exploring days as a boy, hunting squirrels and rabbits with his .22 rifle. There were a lot of stories about the woods around Julius. He heard that they were haunted and people went missing. He knew when he was a teenager, a few younger boys had disappeared in those woods. Alex had been part of the search the party that had gone looking for the missing boys. They found one boy, barely alive, but the other two were never found. Their tent had been ripped to shreds. Alex couldn’t remember what happened to the surviving boy, but he was sure it was probably a couple mountain lions that had gotten the other two. The conservation department denied the existence of mountain lions in Missouri, but his hunting buddy, Joel, had caught one on his trail camera three years ago. Alex wasn’t afraid of the woods, he had spent half his childhood and teen years exploring these woods. He’d never a single ghost, nor monster. It was all bullshit, of course every little town had its legends, he supposed, and some might even be based on facts. He wasn’t a superstitious man, but he did believe, if there was anywhere in Julius with a few ghosts, it was the old Lauder House. He heard a few stories about that place, and if half of them were true, he didn’t want to spend a night in that big farmhouse. Eventually the path forked and if you weren’t careful, and took the left path, you’d end up passing the back side of the Lauder family cemetery which stood behind the Lauder House. He wouldn’t have to worry about passing that house tonight, he was headed down the western trail.
The trail he took, snaked its way through the trees ahead of Alex. The dead, wet leaves muffled the sound of his feet, with only the occasional stumble as he drunkenly made his way. In the spring or summer, the leaves of the massive trees stretching above him would have block 80 percent of the falling rain, but it was late autumn and Alex felt like he had just taken a dip in the Missouri. He could feel the rain soaking into his boxers, shriveling his testicles so they were nearly inside his body. The wet and the chill, combined with the bourbon he had consumed at Mike’s made his blander ache with urine. When he was a kid, Alex had heard that it wasn’t good to hold your piss for too long; it’d burst, a classmate at Julius Elementary had told him. Then your body would fill with piss and drown your organs with poison.
Alex stopped by an old elm tree and fumbled his freezing dick out of his pants and let out a stream of clear fluid. It was then that he first noticed the dead quiet around him. The sound of rainfall was all around him, but the usual sounds of bugs and wildlife weren’t there. He hadn’t noticed this absence of sound until now, but he realized he had been experiencing it since first stepping into the cover of the woods. The sound of his piss hitting the tree stopped, as his bladder emptied and that was when he heard it for the first time. A soft padding sound, like large paws hitting the dead leaves behind him. Panic seized his mind and he turned to see nothing. The darkness of the night fell in front of his eyes like a black curtain, cutting off sight from the way he had come, but the sound of paws on wet leaves had stopped before he turned. Alex stood there feeling that darkness pressing in on him like a physical presence, nearly suffocating him. He stood there for perhaps 30 seconds before he realized that his dick was still out and in his hand. Alex let out a bark of shaky laughter, picturing what he must look like, a drunk guy, alone among the trees, with his cold shriveled dick in his hand and mouth hanging open slightly. He zipped up his pants and turned to resume his walk, when that padding noise started up behind him. Something was coming closer and he was sure he knew what it was, one of those fucking mountain lions was stalking him and he broke into a shambling run. The adrenaline and cold rain were shedding away some of his drunkenness and sobering him up. The creature behind him picked up the pace and Alex was very aware that he could not outrun a mountain lion. It would catch him. Suddenly, he tripped on the root of a tree jutting from the trail and he went sprawling. His face dug into the mud beneath the dead leaves. He felt a faint popping, then blaring pain shot up his shoulder as it struck a rock and dislocated itself. Alex rolled onto his left side, which was undamaged and as quickly as possible, he scrambled to his feet, ready to make his stand here. If the mountain lion or whatever was behind him wanted him, then it was going to have to fight for its meal. But when he turned, there was nothing behind him. He held his breath, listening; the pain in his shoulder and head were distant for now, the adrenaline dulling them. He heard nothing, but the steady fall of rain against the woods floor. The pain in his shoulder slowly began to come back to him as his heartbeat slowed and he knew he had to relocate it as soon as possible, but what if that thing came back? He had to do it now.
When Alex was a boy, he loved exploring the woods and climbing trees, especially the big elm in front of his house. He’d climb as high as the branches would allow and he’d look out over Julius and pretend he was in the crow’s nest of a giant pirate ship, or an army sniper, shooting at Nazis. He never fell. That’s the magic of children, and they rarely fall, maybe because they aren’t afraid of falling. But one time, when he was climbing down from the big elm, after alerting the pirate captain that he had spotted land which was sure to be filled with treasure, his father had taken him aside.
“Alex,” he had said, pulling the boy close. “You’re worrying your momma with all this climbing. It’s dangerous.”
Alex had thought for sure that his daddy would forbid him to climb and tears had begun to fill his eyes, but his daddy had ignored them and surprised Alex by saying, “I’m not gonna tell you to stop climbing, I was a climber too as a boy and I know I’d have kept climbing if my dad had told me not to, but you need to be careful.” “I am daddy,” Alex had replied quickly, “I’m always careful to test every branch before I put my weight on it.”
“I know you’re careful, but more than that, you need to know what to do in case you fall,” his daddy had said. “There’s a trick to falling, and even if you fall correctly, you could still hurt yourself. You might break a leg or dislocate a shoulder.”
So, Alex’s daddy had showed him how to fall, and how to make a splint in case he broke a bone. And the most important thing, how to relocate a shoulder.
Alex sat on the ground, with his knees bent to the sky. The rain had slackened temporarily and he had a brief rest from it in order to perform the next task. He grasped his right knee with the hand of his wounded right shoulder and brought his left hand around the other side of the knee and laced his fingers together. Pain was shooting up and down his arm in aching waves as he leaned back letting his thumbs point toward the dark sky above. He slowly applied pressure to his arms, gently sliding his knee forward, creating tension and trying to avoid damaging his shoulder even more. He suddenly saw something out of the corner of his left eye, and resisted turning that way, for fear of jerking his shoulder a ruining his progress. He needed his arm if he was going to fight. Fear loomed large in the back of his mind, telling him hurry up, that thing was circling him. Alex continued pulling his shoulder, pain screamed in his brain until all at once, he felt a sickening, yet satisfying pop, as his shoulder slid back into place.
Alex slowly made his way to his feel. Pain still racked his shoulder and he could feel blood running down his face from a wound just above his eye. He stood and gingerly took a step along the trail. Fresh pain shot through his foot and he nearly tumbled to the ground. Alex caught himself and took pressure off his wounded left foot. He must have twisted it when he fell. He delicately put pressure on it and there was pain, but not as bad this time. Good, it wasn’t broken, probably, wasn’t broken, but he’d be limping for a few days if he got out of here.
Alex scanned the area, trying to see movement, but nothing stirred. He looked at the ground, and saw exactly what he wanted. A branch which had recently fallen, about 2 inches in diameter and 5 feet long. He picked it up and continued walking down the trail, using the branch as a walking stick. He had it about four steps before the rain began to fall again. This time it fell in heavy, constant streams like a curtain of water.
“It’s raining buckets,” he muttered distractedly under his breath. The sound of his own voice startled him, he had not meant to speak aloud, and his voice sounded dry and hoarse. Alex limped his way along the path. His shoulder muscle kept cramping and his ankle pained him, but he hurried as quickly as he could. His eyes darted back and trying to pick out any movement, but the heavy rain still obscured his vision. If the mountain lion was still stalking him, it had flagged back a bit, about ten minutes had passed since his injury without a sound from the beast. The path ahead began to slope downward. The rainwater had started to flow in a small stream between his feet, and fear slammed into him suddenly. The path home stayed fairly level for a half mile, but began to slope upward gradually, his house was on the top of Osage Hill. He had taken the wrong fork, but when and how? By his estimation, he was maybe three hundred yards from the Lauder family cemetery.
Alex stopped, contemplating turning back, when a low growl sounded to his right, up the hill from him. He could hear rushing water from a nearby creek, and the soft whispering sound of leaves as paws began to come closer. His heart pounded like a bass drum against his chest, and he made a shambling run in the direction of the Lauder house. Between possible ghosts and the real mountain lion, Alex would take his chances with the ghost. The beast roared behind him, chilling his blood, and the truth came home to Alex. That wasn’t the roar of a big cat, it was something else, something worse. He picked up his pace. His wounded foot protested, and nearly betrayed him, as the woods opened up ahead of him, into a clearing.
He burst from the trees, the low branches slapping at his exposed face, tearing fresh scratches along his cheeks. The graveyard in front of him was unkempt and without a caretaker, the grass and weeds had grown wild. Large tombstones protruded from the earth like the jagged jaw of a deformed giant. He hopped the low broken fence, which separated the backyard from the gravestones. As he landed, being careful to put his weigh on his uninjured leg, he heard his pursuer gusted through the trees behind him and slightly to his right, the sound of snaring growls filled the air and Alex chanced a look back. It wasn’t a mountain lion after all, but a large dog-like creature. Lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating the yard, and Alex had a brief but clear look at the creature. It was a big shadowy thing, it’s eyes glittered silver like the moon and it was closing the gap.
Alex had meant to run around the right side of the big farmhouse and surge through the door, where he would make his last stand in the house somewhere, but if he took the right, then the beast would surely cut him off, so he broke left, taking the long way around. The creature roared in anger and frustration. Alex ran around the side of the house, and up the front porch steps, slipping slightly. He meant to break the door down if he had to, surely it was locked, but the door hung slightly ajar. Alex didn’t stop to consider this. He burst in and slammed the door behind him, running the bolt. He expected to hear the thud of the beast hitting the door, or the shatter of glass, as it came through the window, but there was only the lonely sound of the falling rain.
He allowed himself to relax, but only a little. He needed to get warm. The temperature outside was only a few degrees above freezing and the house had been abandoned for years. To his left he could see a dinner table with eight high backed wooden chairs flanking it. To his right was a living area and his heart leaped, there was a hearth against the far wall. His luck had turned, or so he believed.
Alex limped into the dining room, and grabbed a chair with his good arm, dragging it in to the living room. The legs of the chair screeched across the hardwood floor of the entrance hall, making Alex think of the cries of lost children far from home. That’s what I am now, he thought I’m a lost child, but I’m within walking distance of my home.
He brought the chair into the living room and took in in both hands, knowing this was going to hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. He lifted the chair as high as his sore shoulder would allow and brought it down hard on the brick hearth. The chair exploded as pain erupted up his arm. He had to clamp his teeth shut to stifle a scream that threatened to spring from his lips. He went to his knees and his head swam for a moment. Alex thought he might pass out from the pain and exhaustion but his vision cleared slowly and he began to stack the broken chair into the fireplace. They can bill me for the damage, he thought to himself, barking nervous laughter for the second time that night. The laugh echoed in the empty house, coming back to him like the shriek of a mad man in a cave. He sat there for a moment as he realized a terrible and morbidly funny thing. He had no way to start a fire, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his Zippo. He opened it and flicked it. The lighter made a dull clicking sound, but it didn’t even spark. He knew a few basic first aid tricks, but he was no boy scout. The laughter bubbled up again and he let it out, like a sobbing half mad yelp, which died almost as soon as it began. It didn’t echo back this time, it was swallowed in the noise of rainfall, as the sky dumped a river onto the old farmhouse.
Alex got up, wincing at the pain in his ankle and limped to a doorway leading into the next room. It was a massive kitchen, with cabinets running all along the walls. He made his way over to one of the drawers and pulled it open. Inside was a family of small black rats, nursing from a large fat mother. The eyes of the mother rat were glossy, it had died. Alex could see its babies were feeding on the last milk of the corpse. He jumped back in disgust and accidentally pulling the drawer out of place, spilling its contents to the floor. The baby rats tried to crawl, but they were too small and Alex could see by the whiteness of their eyes that they were blind. One of the rats had broken its back when the drawer fell on it and blood oozed from the thing’s open mouth. Alex quickly slipped off his soaked coat and threw it over the rats, thinking that he had to look at them any longer he would start to scream and the scream would turn into that barking laugh and he would go on laughing and laughing until his throat dried up.
The idea of going through the drawers of this kitchen, discovering what other horrors might hiding in wait for him, made his stomach lurch. He took a few stumbling steps to the sink, believing that he would indeed vomit, but only succeeded in banging his bad ankle on the lower cabinet. The pain drove away his urge to expel the cheeseburger he had eaten that night. It felt like hours had passed since he took his last drink at Mike’s, but it only have been 40 minutes since he bought the pint from the Gas and Grocery. He thought of the kid (Vince? Vick?) and the look he had given Alex. Had it been a knowing look? Alex wasn’t sure, but he wished now that he had taken the kid up on his offer, because these woods were haunted. No, he thought sharply, it was a mountain lion. Just a fucking mountain lion. It was dark and everything looks shadowy in the dark. He could almost believe that, and given time, he might actually convince himself that it was just a big cat. That it was just a part of nature, he part of him knew that if he made it out of this, that thing would be in his dreams. It would chase him over and over and in those dreams it would eat him, screaming and alive. Abruptly, Alex heard a noise from the floor above him. It sounded like a door slamming shut in anger and he jumped, then froze, listening for footsteps. But none came.
Alex’s hand slowly crept to the pocket of his jeans. There, his hand found the pint bottle he had bought from the kid and feeling like a man in a dream, he unscrewed the lid. Alex stood there, still looking up at the ceiling, waiting for more sounds to invade his ears and knock loudly against the door of his sanity. His hand brought the bottle to his lips and he drank deeply. The amber liquid coursed down his throat, setting his insides momentarily on fire and warming him up faintly. Then, still feeling strangely dreamlike, he reached the hand of his wounded arm towards the drawer in front of him. Pain didn’t shoot up his arm, as he expected and his fingers curled around the brass drawer knob. It felt cold in his hand. The fear and anxiety was distant. What he felt now was curiosity. When I open this drawer, he thought groggily, there’s gonna be something in it. If it’s a bad something, then I’ll scream and I’ll let myself go mad, because it’s all too much. Everything that had happened tonight was just…too…fucking…much. Slowly, he pulled the drawer open and peered inside.
His mouth opened in anticipation of a scream, but he closed it again. The drawer was completely empty except for one thing, a book of matches sitting secluded in the center. It read Mike’s Tavern across the front in slanting cursive and Alex reached for it. As soon as he grabbed the book of matches, the dreamy feeling left him and the dull ache of his injuries returned, He could feel his ankle throbbing in his work boot. It had swollen in there and it now felt like sausage packed in casing. He slammed the drawer shut, not even noticing that it was free of dust and dirt. Alex brought the matchbook up to his face, studying the words printed on it, like a man trying to decipher a foreign language. He supposed it was possible that the previous owner of the house could have been a customer of Mike’s, but it had been years since anyone lived in this house and the last owners only stayed briefly. He had seen them in town once and never at Mike’s. Also, he had never seen matchbooks at Mike’s. The place was smoke free, like every other bar in St.Charles County and Mike was too cheap to spend money on advertising, he still had that dinosaur of a television above the bar. Alex shook his head as if to clear it. Why was he freaking out and questioning this bit of more good luck? Because there’s something wrong, his mind answered, but he pushed the thought away. If these matches light, then I’m fucking saved and that’s all I need to worry about right now.
Alex made his way to the fireplace, taking another long draw on the pint of bourbon, which was now half gone. He felt his buzz coming back and the pains in his body receded a bit. He glanced to his right and saw a large bookcase against the wall. He walked to it and grabbed one at random, flipping it open and tearing out several pages, crumpling each one as he did. Alex knelt in front of the fireplace and stuffed the pages under the broken pieces of chair and opened the book of matches. Saved by two different books, he thought, as he struck one of the matches. It spurted light and he touched the burning match to each of the pages he’d crumpled as the fire slowly flared to life.
Alex stripped off his wet shirt. It clung to his torso like a drowning sailor to a life raft. He unlaced his boots, first slipping off the left then carefully removing the right, taking care not to further damage his foot. He slid off his socks, and pants, leaving on his boxers, even though they were soaked all the way through. He took another swig of the bourbon, finishing the pint and setting it aside. He curled up on the small rug in front of the fire and fell into a deep sleep.
He awoke two hours later to the muffled sound of crying. He came back to consciousness slowly and confused. Who was crying? Was it himself? He felt his face and sure enough, he felt wetness there, as well as what might have been dried mud or blood. He guessed it was probably both. He had been sobbing in his sleep and had woken himself up. Must have been a bad dream, but he couldn’t remember and was closing his eyes to go back to sleep when the sound of sobbing reached his ears again. His half-closed eyes flew open and he looked around the room wildly. The fire had died to ashes, but the storm outside was still going full force. There are gonna be a lot of flooded homes tomorrow, he thought dimly. The thought made him remember his uncle’s cellar and the fish that died in there, slowly suffocating as their wet world dissolved around them. He shivered and the cries began again. They sounded like the cries of a (lost) child (far, far from home) and he stood up. His ankle pulsed with pain, and he thought, something’s broken in there for sure. The cries had stopped when he stood up, but they began again less than a minute later. Could some little kid be lost like he was and had taken shelter here too? Alex could see how that was possible, but move toward the front hall, towards the sobs, limping. The sound of the child stopped again as soon as he entered the hall. He felt himself start to call out, but something shrieked in his mind, don’t do that! Don’t let it know that you know it’s here! Get out while you still can! GET OUT! He pushed that insane thought away. He wasn’t about to go back out into that storm. The (creature) mountain lion could still be out there. Besides it sounded like a kid and a scared kid at that. The sobs started again, they were louder now, coming from one of the rooms down the main hall.
“Hello?” he croaked, his voice raspy in his sore and swollen throat. The cries stopped as soon as Alex spoke. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” he asked, making his way into the dark hall.
The sobs started again. They were coming from a door to his immediate right. Alex didn’t notice the lock on the outside of the door, and his rational mind would have dismissed it. He looked into the room and he could hear the sound of the child – yes it definitely sounded like a child – coming from somewhere in the dark. He couldn’t see anything in the room, not a single shape. Alex took a step into the room and he had a brief sensation of falling and realized, too late, that it wasn’t the door to a room, but to the basement and the stairs weren’t there. But the most terrifying realization, as he fell was that he hadn’t been hearing sobs, he had been hearing tear-filled laughter. Laughter that didn’t belong in the basement of a farmhouse, but the deepest depths of an insane asylum.
Alex fell with a splash. He felt small, yet powerful hands grab at his ankles, pulling him under. He kicked out at his attacker even as pain creeped through his wounded leg, but Alex never made contact with a body. He surfaced once as he thrashed at the water and took an opportunity to draw in a deep, lung-filling breath but the scream he meant to expel only produced a muffled gurgling, as he was submerged. Though almost all comprehension had deserted him, he did marvel at how large and deep the basement must be because he ever felt the bottom even as he was pulled deeper and deeper into his watery tomb.